August 12, 2001
Last night saw former 1st place holder Ryan Thurston drowning in several glasses of Paisano, smoking cigarette after cigarette, wallowing in his own self-made cavern of defeat-riddled horror, as nearly every bid he took was met with opponents taking very few cards and his partner holding very few trump cards. In this daze of a terrifying losing streak, eerily similar to his collapse this past February that all but crushed his hopes of a first-place finish, Thurston saw his lock on first-place slip away and his winning percentage fall below .600 for the first time all season.
And it was only going to get worse.
Thurston learned this morning that a freak mistake made during the second game of last night’s scoring has reversed the decision, giving Haskell and Kent the win and Thurston and Varisco the loss.
Not only that, but this afternoon at Jillian’s on Lansdowne Street in Boston, MA, we return to the building where Keith Lane first made his comeback this season, going 7-1 on June 24th of this year, making up over a full percentage point on then-leader Thurston. Add Dave Varisco, in 3rd place and, combined with the luck of Jen Haskell last night, almost single-handedly gave Thurston 13 losses last night, and we have what is surely one of Thurston’s greatest nightmares coming to life. (And when you see Varisco’s monumental performance at the end of the 1st game today, you will see why.)
And did we mention Jen Haskell, who comes into this event after an incredible 14-6 evening at Allston Manor and on a remarkable 6-game winning streak? She jumped from 8th to 4th place in one evening and overtook 2nd place in the team standings with Varisco. Can she possibly surge into contention for first place?
The answer to that question is: she is teamed with Thurston in her first two games today, first against Kent and Varisco, a tandem that went 2-2 last night. And if you thought last night was an indication of how lucky players can get, take a long, hard look at this game.
It begins with Haskell getting lucky and getting the 5 in the kitty on her 20-bid in hearts. She makes 20. Kent bids 15 in diamonds and Thurston goes 20 over her... but in diamonds. However, Varisco has no trump and Thurston squeaks it out, putting his team up 40-20. Varisco is again trump-less the next two hands and Thurston’s 25, coupled with Kent’s set on a 20-bid, all but bury Kent and Varisco at 5-80. Haskell then makes 20, putting her team ahead, seemingly for good, at 100-15.
And now comes one of the greatest bidding exhibitions in the history of the game, as Varisco puts on a show that would rival Pat Lane himself. He goes 25 in hearts and makes it easily. Thurston goes 25 out of the box on the next hand, holding the 5, J, Q, 9 of hearts. But Varisco holds the 5, J, AH in diamonds and bids 30. He has only the K, Q of clubs to back it up but his three trump bleed all the rest. And, ladies and gentlemen, we have the first made-30 bid in the history of the NEA45s. The score is now 70-105.
So Varisco goes 20 again on the 5 and AH and he draws the J and K. The buck puts his team behind just 100-105. So he goes 25 again, this time on the J, 9, 8, 4 of hearts. Just about every other heart sleeps and Varisco makes his 25-bid, and cements one of the most memorable 45s comebacks of all-time. This ends Haskell’s winning streak and send Thurston into even more of a pathetic rage.
Now, last night was full of long, back-and-forth games resulting in many close finales and suspenseful 25-bids. Today can have only one name... the day of the buck.
Case in point, the next game. Haskell and Thurston are together again, this time against Lane and Varisco, who are teaming for the first time all season. Thurston gets the A in the draw on his 20-bid in diamonds and scores a buck. Then Varisco and Lane trade immaculate hands and score two straight bucks. If Varisco’s luck couldn’t get any better, he takes a chance on his next bid, 20 in clubs, by throwing away the 7C to see what he gets in the draw. He takes two. His first card is the 9C. His second is... the Jack. That’s four straight bucks to start this game, three of them for Lane and Varisco. The rest of the game is a standard back and forth match that has L and V crush a comeback and set Thurston on his last two 20-bids. Counting last night, that’s four straight losses for Thurston.
And a fifth is on the way. He teams with Varisco in a game against Kent and Lane. The first hand is, what else?, a buck. This time, though, Kent has the 5 and AH on Lane’s 20-bid in diamonds. Kent’s next 20-bid, in hearts, is made when Lane has the 5. Varisco then continues his trend of scoring bucks, putting his team back by just 20 at 35-55. A few hands later, on Thurston’s 15-bid in hearts, all four players took 4 on the draw, one of the few times that has happened this season. Thurston makes his bid, cutting the score to 90-95, but Lane closes out the game with, you guessed it, a freaking buck. Lane and Kent are both 2-0 at this point.
Thurston and Varisco team against Haskell and Lane next. Six hands in, with his team up by ten, Thurston makes a major mistake by throwing trump on the 2nd to last hand of his 20-bid in diamonds. Lane beats it with the AH and wins the last with his kicker, setting T and V. But Varisco lucks out by getting three spades in the kitty on his next 20-bid and, two hands later, Thurston makes a 25-bid and wins his first game in six tries, *-115. Haskell falls to 0-3 on the day, falling below .500 and away from the leaders. This would be Lane’s only loss of the day.
Haskell storms back with Varisco, this time against Kent and Thurston, and the two start where they left off last night, drubbing K and T, *-(15), while only bidding twice.
Lane and Thurston are teamed together for the first time in over a week, against Kent and Varisco. The game begins with three bucks, two in a row by the Bulls, and Thurston lucks out on a 25-bid by getting the A, K of clubs in the kitty. The Bulls close out an academic win when Lane takes just 1 on Varisco’s 25-bid in diamonds. Kent has none. The Bulls make 25 on Varisco’s 25-bid and, as Thurston put it, the luck stopped there for Varisco.
The next game, he teams with Kent again, this time opposite Lane and Haskell. The game starts out with... that’s right, three bucks. Haskell and Lane are up 60-30. Lane then makes two 20-bids in clubs and Kent is set on a 20-bid to end the game, putting Lane at 4-1 for the day. So, as is his trademark, he skips out before he can start losing. He leaves that up to Varisco... like it was his job.
Kent and Thurston then go against Haskell and Varisco, the unstoppable team of this weekend. But on the 4th hand, Haskell is set on the 5, J when Varisco only has the 7C and Kent lucks out when Thurston draws the 5 on her 20-bid in diamonds, and quickly K and T are up 85-30. Varisco then takes a chance on a 25-bid in clubs, almost gets away with it, but gets set when Thurston has the AH and Kent the AC. Haskell scores a buck, as if we hadn’t seen enough of those today, and the comeback seems imminent. Especially when Thurston’s push-15-bid in clubs goes around. Except he gets the 5, J in the kitty, scores 25, and he and Kent win, *-40. Thurston is on a 3-game winning streak, Varisco on a 4-game losing streak, and now Haskell is happy about playing with Thurston for the first time in a while.
On the first hand of their game against Kent and Varisco, Haskell intimidates Varisco (as usual) but he is still able to pull off ten points on his 20-bid in spades. Thurston then goes on a bidding-crusade, making his next 4-bids, including the last two when he pulls a Varisco and his partner has the 5. Kent scores a buck, the 20th of the day, on the next hand and Varisco makes 25 after that, but Thurston wins one trick with the King of spades, and that’s all his team needs.
Varisco wraps up his visit in Boston by losing his last 5 games, thus allowing Haskell to sneak into 4th place, in a virtual tie with Doyle for 3rd. Kent barely moves an inch from her .460 winning record after another off-day bidding. She is now at 70.3%, a hair away from 2nd lowest in the Academy.
With a more reserved bidding strategy, Lane takes a more firm hold on 1st place, going up to .600, while Thurston falls another percentage point. Varisco’s 4-5 day puts him at exactly .500, just .023 points away from 4th place. Will he be able to make the Finals without playing another game the next few months? We shall have to wait and see.
Lane, 4-1 (10-11 bidding)
Thurston, 4-4 (16-21 bidding)
Kent, 3-4 (7-12 bidding)
Haskell, 3-4 (9-10 bidding)
Varisco, 4-5 (15-17 bidding)
There were just 14 sets out of 61 hands, good for a 77.0 bidding percentage, up almost a full point from yesterday’s total; 20 of the 61 hands were bucks, an incredible 32%; 3 of the 9 games began with the teams scoring 3 straight bucks; just 8 of the 61 bids were 15-bids, a percentage of just 13.1, and only one of those was a set; there were also just 6 25-bids, and only two of those were sets, both by Varisco.